Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Janet and Clive's Olive Harvest - A Colheita 2008

It was very satisfying to see these photos of olives harvested from trees I helped to prune and renovate almost a year ago. Here is Janet and Clive's own description:

"The traditional hand-picking method requires a ripador, a small hand-held rake to comb the olives from the branches of the tree onto a net spread on the ground. After I returned from a visit to England in mid-November, we sought one each. None were available at the market, one shop had sold out, a second was out of stock, a third hadn’t had any for ages and as they were hand-made by oldsters they didn’t have a source. We abandoned the search and looked instead into pneumatic palmetas, mechanical clappers to shake the olives (drupes) from the twigs. We bought a good-sized net (Ecocampo recommended eight metres by eight) to spread under the tree, for catching the olives, and crates to carry them in. A week later we were “mooching” in the old town and found two little shops which merit the appellation of Emporium or Aladdin’s Cave; we bought some sacks and when we asked about ripadores, they had them! The first time we opened out the net it was obviously far too big, so we swapped it for a 6x6m (20ft square), which was manageable for two of us.

"Although it was cold in the morning, the sun always came out and warmed the day to a comfortable 13°-20°C. We were in the olival just after 9am, stripping the drupes then lifting the net to pour them into a crate. At the end of the day we put the olives through a winnowing machine to clean the leaves from the fruit - when we bought the quinta we paid an extra €500 for farm equipment; the only piece that was of any use or value turns out to be the winnowing machine. The Portuguese have no word for this important machine; to them all machines are “maquina”, which covers anything with moving parts. A hand drill, electric drill, pneumatic drill, cement sprayer, car engine, JCB digger, all are “maquina”. To name each, you have to say what the maquina is for.

"Now, once the olives are cleaned and bagged, you take them to a lagar to be pressed for the oil. Our nearest mill, Orca, is closed again this year, and JJ the digger man suggested one in Vale de Prazeres (Valley of Pleasures). We visited, and found a grim-looking old warehouse mounded six feet deep in tons of bagged olives, lying sullen and forlorn in a thin river of black juice which trickled into the ground outside. No sound of action. A bored bloke shuffled out to “greet” us, fag in mouth and wearing a beret and boiler suit, waiting for us to speak first. Disheartened, it wasn’t worth the effort so we hardly bothered, deciding that any other lagar would probably be better.

"We were told that 200kg is the minimum acceptable weight for pressing, so we needed to gather more olives and weigh them. Back to Ecocampo for more sacks and crates. They had sold out of our size and the rest would not stack on ours – typical. However, they did have a weighing machine on sale, so we bought that. And in a typical serendipitous conversation we met Julio the olive farmer, who suggested a lagar called Loca, beyond Fundão, 40mins drive from the quinta.

"Two days later, on the way back to our villa, we went to find Loca. There was a queue of fifteen trucks and tractors with trailers right along the access road and onto the main road. Good news though, we stopped to look around the place and met Julio again, a mutual pleasure. Working most of each day, we harvested 201kg in one week. We took our olives to lagar Loca where we were sixth in line, and only had to wait two hours for our turn – we felt sorry for the farmers who were in the long queue a few days ago!

"There we emptied them through what looked like a cattle grid in the floor. They were washed, weighed as 201kg (yeah!), and pressed; we were looking forward to having our own oil but discovered that we were in fact adding to the stocks of “Português” oil and would get one tenth of the weight of our olives as communal oil, fresh from the pump! Twenty litres of our very own oil – we were SO proud, taking it home. After a few days back at the villa to wash us and our clothes, at the beginning of December we returned to pick a second harvest. Five days and a further 106kg in crates we returned to Loca, and took eleven litres more of freshly-pressed olive oil home. Delicious! But the weather was turning cold and the better drupes were falling to the ground, so we decided the end of the harvest had arrived for this year. Now we have met the second of our targets; we are now genuine producteurs, with our own registered number at the lagar. Our oil sells for €4 a litre wholesale. Next year when the trees I pruned in January 2008 come into full production, we should be able to get nearer to 600kilos, if we can cope with so much picking. Ah well, a farmer’s life . . . !"

Fantastic you two - hope to see you out there again one day...

1 comment:

Moon Over Martinborough said...

In New Zealand we've just finished our harvest. This year in our grove we used hand-held rakes as well as large, mechanical rakes (Italian equipment). The mechanical rakes are loud, petrol driven things and while they're fast they make friendly harvest conversation difficult!